Traditional thinking suggests that carbohydrates are bad for you – especially if you’re trying to lose weight.
But here’s something that might go against everything you’ve ever heard: Carbs might be the single most important thing you can eat for weight loss and overall health! This goes according to Dr Mark Hyman, an American doctor and New York Times best-selling author.
In fact, Dr Hyman recommends eating a high-carb diet. But, wait, don’t carbohydrates contribute to heart disease, insulin resistance and other health concerns?!
Yes, some do. But the truth is more complicated than that, apparently. I’ll tell you more…
There are different types of carbohydrates
Turns out, the world of carbohydrates encompasses a huge category. A chocolate sundae and cauliflower both fall into the “carbs” category – yet they’re entirely different foods.
In fact, almost all plant foods fall into the carb category. These are what are known as “slow carbs” by Dr Hyman – low-glycaemic carbs that don’t spike your blood sugar. According to him, eating a cornucopia of high-quality, plant-based carbs provides multiple benefits, including high levels of vitamins and minerals, dietary fibre, and special plant compounds with healing compounds known as phytonutrients.
Unfortunately, though, most people don’t choose these healthy “slow” carbs. They eat quickly-absorbed carbs from sugar, high-fructose corn syrup and white flour, which the body very efficiently turns into belly fat.
The important difference is in how carbs affect your blood sugar, Dr Hyman says. Calorie-wise, sugar is different from calories that come from fat, protein or non-starchy carbs. Sugar scrambles all your normal appetite controls so you consume more and more, driving your metabolism to convert it into lethal belly fat.
High-fibre, low-sugar carbs, on the other hands, are slowly digested and don’t lead to blood sugar and insulin spikes. These carbs I speak of include cauliflower and broccoli, for example.
So that’s the key difference, according to Dr Hyman. Slow carbs heal rather than harm.
The benefits of eating slow carbohydrates
Ideally, about 75% of your carbohydrate intake should come from non-starchy vegetables and low-glycaemic foods. When you focus on these low-glycaemic plant foods, you reap the following benefits:
- Weight normalisation
- No sugar crashes
- Reduced risk for numerous diseases
How to make optimal choices when it comes to eating carbohydrates
Let’s go beyond the are-they-bad-or-good confusion and classify carbs into four simple categories using traffic light colours to help you make better choices when adding this food group to your diet:
- Green carbs: Eat all you want here! Slow-burning, low-glycaemic veggies like kale, cauliflower, broccoli, cucumber, asparagus and Brussels sprouts should be the basis of your diet. Seaweed is another smart choice.
- Yellow carbs: Eat these moderately. These include whole grains like quinoa, brown rice and buckwheat. They’re all nutrient-rich.
- Red carbs: Go easy here. These include starchy, high-glycaemic cooked vegetables like peas, potatoes, corn, squashes as root vegetables. Portion these out and use them as treats rather than dietary staples.
- Forbidden carbs: Skip carbs like dried fruit, gluten-containing grains and processed foods altogether, or use them very sparingly.
So is a low-carb diet never beneficial?
After reading about all of this about carbs for weight loss, you might be wondering if low-carb diets are ever beneficial. Especially if you’ve done well on one. The answer is yes.
While nearly everyone does well with slow carbs, there are some cases in which a very low-carb diet can be beneficial, Dr Hyman says. For people with type 2 diabetes, high blood sugar or lots of excess weight, you may need to restrict or cut out good carbs, even starchy fruit and veggies, for a period of time before returning them to your diet.
According to Dr Hyman, the trick involves gradually introducing slow carbs. As insulin sensitivity improves, you can increase your consumption of slow carbs like yams, fruit, lentils and whole grains from time to time.